FC Kanas City (3-2-1, 10pts.) v. Portland Thorns (6-2-1, 19pts)
Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 7:30pm PDT (9:30pm CDT)
JELD-WEN Field, Portland Oregon
Radio – Freedom 970 (970 AM) Live Audio
Watch the Match Here!
Twitter – @ThornsFC @FCKansasCity

FC Kansas City heads to Portland, Oregon to take on the Portland Thorns in the second of four meetings this season and the first of two at JELD-WEN Field.

FC Kansas City comes into the match off a bye week; their last match being a 1-0 defeat to Sky Blue FC that saw defender Lauren Sesselmann sent off in the 22nd minute, forcing the Blues to play with 10 for the remainder of the match.  The Thorns, sans Canadian internationals Karina LeBlanc, Christine Sinclair, and United States internationals Rachel Buehler and Alex Morgan, fell to the Chicago Red Stars 2-0, in a physical match that saw 26 fouls and three yellow cards between the teams.  The physicality of the match and an inspired Red Stars defense was able to easily shut down a Thorns side lacking its usual offensive punch.

In the first meeting of the season, the inaugral match of the NWSL, the Blues stunned the Thorns with a 3rd minute goal by forward Renae Cuellar who used her speed to get behind the past the defense and 1v1 with LeBlanc, who bit on a deke.  The Thorns would equalize on the 67th minute as forward Danielle Foxhoven was taken down in the box and Sinclair converted the subsequent penalty, resulting in a 1-1 draw.

What do the Thorns need to do?

Simply put, they need to find their early season form, where they were scoring at will.  Shut out in two of their past four matches, the Thorns attacking schemes seems to have been figured out, as teams have learned to shut down the midfield distribution through the middle and pushing it out to the flanks.  This has caused the Thorns to rely less off the ball at their feet and more on set pieces, where they have only scored 1 of their 12 goals off a head.

For the Thorns to break through this defensive scheme, they will need to find a way to push the ball through the defensive third rather than sending it in from distance, a tall task against a team like FC Kansas City, which has one of the best defenses in the league.  The return of Morgan and Sinclair in the attack will give the Thorns the attacking flair missing in the Chicago match, but they will need more than Sinclair willing her team to victory, which may come in the form of putting a true second striker up top with Morgan, most likely Foxhoven.

For the Thorns to get the win, they will need to take control of the game early and dictate play.  In recent matches, the Thorns have allowed the opponent to dictate the pace and type of play, and it came back to bite them against an inspired Red Stars side.  Coming out and controlling the midfield, making attacking runs, and using the speed of Morgan to put the Blues defense on their heels will go a long way in determining the result against a defense that has only allowed more than 1 goal against once this season.

What do the Blues need to do?

The match against the Thorns kicks off a busy month for the Blues, which sees them play seven matches in June, with four of them on the road.  The Blues have had a bit of an up and down start to the season, with their only winning streak coming in back to back matches against the Seattle Reign.

At the core of their play is a nearly unbreakable defense that has allowed in only four goals on the season, with two goals coming from penalty kicks, and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart recording three shutouts.  The Blues defense will take a bit of a hit with Sesselmann serving a red card suspension, but with the rest of the starters available, they should just be able to slot in another player into her defensive role.  Whether or not this will change how the defense plays remains to be seen until the match itself.

On the attack, the Blues relies on the speed of Cuellar to break through and disrupt the defense, with midfielders Kristie Mewis and Lauren Cheney, when playing in form, adding an additional element to the attack.  With the Thorns preferring to play with a high defensive line, it is possible the speed of Cuellar and Mewis could catch the Thorns defense off guard, as they did in the first match, but that’s a tall order with the Thorns defense playing as a solid unit, the past weekend’s match against the Red Stars non-withstanding.

Projected Lineups:

With the national teamers back, both teams will likely bring out much their usual lineups, with the exception of the Blues defense, which will be missing Sesselmann dues to suspension.  Otherwise the lineup will likely be the same for FC Kanas City, coming out in a 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1

The Thorns will likely come out in their usual 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid, but there is the possibility of a couple changes.  Midfielder Courtney Wetzel was given the start against Chicago over usual starter Nikki Washington, and she performed well, while Washington has been less than impressive.  Another change that could happen is Foxhoven getting the start over Mana Shim at forward, since she is a pure striker that would push the Kansas City defense often.

por-fckc-june-6-2013-lineup

What to Expect:

Both teams come out with excellent defenses, so it will likely be a chess match out there, with each teams being cautious at first before taking risks.  While this is typical in the first 20 minutes or so as either side looks to feel each other out, it may be prolonged in this match.  With both teams wanting to exploit weaknesses of the opponents, it is possible that they will send probing balls down the field and use the speed of their attackers to find a weakness.  While this isn’t a pretty brand of soccer, if it works it can chance the tenor of the match.  At least that’s a more conservative approach.

The flipside to that conservative approach is an all-out attacking style that shoves the attack into the heart of the defense and wears them out.  This style of play can be spectacular to watch when it works, but is incredibly frustrating when it doesn’t.  With both teams favoring an attacking style of play, this is more likely what should be expected.

In their first match, the teams played to a draw because neither could break through other than an early defensive mistake for the Blues and then a penalty kick for the Thorns.  Both teams have had several shutouts in their favor, so it will be a challenge for either side to break through.

Keys to the Match:

FC Kansas City

  1. Adjust to the conditions
  2. Stand your ground on defense
  3. Capitalize on chances

Thorns

  1. Take control of the match early, especially in the attack
  2. Control the midfield
  3. Keep the ball out of their defensive third

Score Prediction:

This match has the making of a scoreless draw, but it is also one of those matches where capitalizing on a few opportunities given while otherwise parking the bus.  If both teams go that route, we could witness the first scoreless draw in NWSL history, but it’s just as likely that it could be a one goal victory for either side.  I see this match as a toss-up, and could be either a scoreless or 1-1 draw.